Homebound, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Javon Johnson’s drama, set in a juvenile detention home, is steeped in good intentions. With a passionate intensity that leaves ample room for humor, he relentlessly exposes the fears, obsessions, and psychic wounds of his adolescent protagonists–a murderer, arsonist, drug dealer, and rapist–as they struggle to find hope in a world that’s labeled them expendable. The playwright is at his best in quiet, unassuming moments, as when these traumatized youngsters throw an impromptu birthday party for one of their own.

But too often Johnson opts for stagy speechifying. The boys repeatedly launch into long, overly literate monologues to explain their pasts or unveil their feelings–monologues that spring from theatrical convenience rather than dramatic urgency. Despite the boys’ repeated laments about intolerable conditions at the home, they generally come and go without supervision, almost as if they were at summer camp. And no matter how thorny the social or psychological problems they face, Johnson offers one and only one solution: reading the Bible.

Director Derrick Sanders’s earnest cast take some time to ease into their parts, adding to the general stiffness. But gradually they give dimension to their characters, like the playwright showing promise of better things to come.